The Way of the Penguin

During the past month, I’ve been spending a bunch of time in my head, wondering what my actual path in the SCA might be. A conversation with an old friend kicked off this particular bout of introspection. She is an apprentice, which means that she has chosen the path of deep study in the Arts & Sciences, with the hope and goal that someday the Peers in the Society will recognize that she has attained mastery of her chosen craft and recognize her with the title of “Master.” This is a great and worthy goal, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to study with a variety of men and women who have themselves traveled on this path.

And yet, as we talked, I realized that as much as I love learning and doing research and making stuff and exploring how people did stuff in the SCA period of history … this is not my path. (Maybe yet, maybe ever … ) Instead, through a slip of the tongue, I stumbled upon my own path in the SCA.

The Way of the Penguin

Knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Learning for the sake of learning. Finding the reason to try something new, to develop and teach a class, to redact a new recipe, to attempt a new knitting design … all for the intrinsic enjoyment within that task.

For me, there are two things that motivate me to work on an A&S project, whether it be fiber arts, Bardic arts, fencing, or my long-neglected leadership and persona reading projects.

The first is the enjoyment that I get from the activity in and of itself. There is a certain goodness that I find in figuring out how words and a melody come together, or reworking a medieval stocking pattern until it finally fits comfortably on my leg, or (finally) finishing a new tunic to fence in that isn’t 20 years old and falling apart. I credit my parents with instilling in me the ability to find my own validation in pursuit of developing a talent. In fact, I clearly remember my father, trying to get me to practice the piano (always a hard task for someone with perpetual squirrel brain), encouraging me by saying that, at some point, the act of playing and practicing would become enjoyable even if I wasn’t performing or getting it perfect. You know what? My old man was right. (There it is in black and white … 😀 )

The second thing that motivates me is when I am making something to give to someone. Most of my knitted objects and a good many of my songs are meant as gifts for others. I get a kick out of plotting a careful design, trying things out, putting something together and, finally, presenting it to the intended recipient. That moment of their reaction is honestly what I find to be the best thing I could get in return. I especially enjoy doing this for people who are either not expecting it … or are not members of Royalty or Peers, and thus not people who are in positions in the SCA where people make or do things for them. They are a way of giving someone a token that says: thank you for being a friend to me. Thank you for being a friend to Haus zum bellenden Hund.

So what, exactly, is the Way of the Penguin? For me, it is a Way that gives people a path to independent scholarship, to doing things because they find joy in them, to helping them decide how much of themselves they can give to this hobby, whether it be contributing to the SCA’s body of knowledge by doing research and experimental archaeology, or giving generously of their gifts of time and service outside of the Path to Peerage. It is a Way that says, everyone is valued for what they contribute to our organization, and if you find that the Path to Peerage is not for you, then come join us on the Way of the Penguin. (We have cookies … or oranges … or mead, depending on what Robert Callum has been cooking up in the Haus zum bellenden Hund kitchen.)

At first when I thought I about this, I wondered if I should go about making this a formal thing. Maybe we needed a badge? Or something formal? But, no. The Way of the Penguin is all about what you make of it. So if you would like to try your hand at embroidery, and decide to make a favor with a depiction of a penguin, go for it! If you would like to write a song about the strange birds that live in the South, that explorers have glimpsed during their voyages around the Cape, go for it! If you would like to try your hand at a penguin subtlety, go for it! If you never make anything penguin-themed, yet go your own Way in your pursuit of what interests you in the SCA, go for it!

(But Teresa, you can’t just make something up, this is the SCA! Why yes, I know. But the Way of the Penguin is also a little punk rock, so pull out that hurdy-gurdy, let’s throw on some tunes, and start making art, or smacking that pell, or volunteering to work Gate, or whatever makes us happy. I’ll see you at the next Event!)

~ ~ ~

UPDATE: After publishing this and inviting comment on my Facebook page, I received some great comments. A friend pointed out that, as a point of fact, someone on the Peerage Path would ideally be on that path through an intrinsic motivation, not in the hopes of receiving reward. This rings true with the vast majority of Peers I have met. They are giving of themselves, their time, and their talents, no matter what color belt they wear, or if you have accepted their patronage. However, as another friend pointed out, being a Peer is a job, and not one that everyone is interested in interviewing for. And that latter perspective is the one I hoped to think about in this blog post. There is a great deal of visibility for the traditional paths; I would like to make present an alternative to those paths, just in case anyone is thinking along these similar lines.


The Heart of Darkwood

I wrote this poem prior to White Shield with the intention of presenting it at evening feast to Their Excellencies, Brid and Jared. As it turned out, trying to make it all day, and then late into the evening with no spouse and two toddlers is not conducive to being able to do anything except bow out early and return home. I ended up posting the poem in the Barony Facebook page, and Her Excellency had a favorable reaction. At March Crown, Brid and Jared stepped out, and Their Excellencies Carrek MacBrian and Mercy Grym stepped up. Brid did me the honor of inviting me to lead their procession into the West Kingdom Court, which I did, proceeding slowly and ceremoniously and stopping thrice to sing out a verse each time. It was just the mix of theatrical flair and solemn occasion that warms the heart of a Bard so very much! (Hey, I gotta take the opportunities where I find them!) I have a particular fondness for this piece, and for the Barony and its leadership for which I wrote it.

Also, I’m kind of proud of the fact that when I wrote it, I actually used a modal scale, which means this is one of the first pieces I’ve written that begins to approach a historical model, musically speaking. Next, I’d like to start tackling 16th-century art songs and using them as both performance pieces and inspiration for writing.

Heart of Darkwood

Verse 1

Under oak and circling crown
Where hart and hawk do seek their rest
On mountain path, in sleeping Stadt,
Midst scholar’s deep and dusty quest–
There I sought a heart of joy
There I sought a heart of strength
There I sought the heart of Darkwood

Verse 2

And so I wandered far afield
And bade good gentles as we met
To tell me true if they could say
Where such a treasure was to get?
Where could I find a heart of joy?
Where could I find a heart of strength?
Where could I find the heart of Darkwood?

Verse 3

Their answers came with proud delight
My journey was near at an end
A gracious Lord and Lady might
Reach out their hands in welcome, friend:
Our Baron is our heart of strength
Our Baroness our heart of joy
And we shall hold them in this place-

The living Heart of Darkwood!

White Shield 2019

White Shield is our large Baronial event of the year, kicking off Tourney season which, I have discovered, the West Kingdom takes VERY, very seriously. Three songs came from this event; I will include two here. The first is a song extolling the fighters, fencers, and archers who came to the field and demonstrated their bravery and skill, which I performed at Invocation. The second is a Lied in honor of Sir William Ulfsson, the winner of the Tourney, who fought bravely in honor of all those who have fought or are fighting cancer. With that sort of inspiration, a Bard can’t help but find the words to praise the Champion!

The Plains of White Shield


We shall fight, and we shall win
And then return to fight again
Our stalwart blades shall never yield
Upon the plains of Whiteshield.


Nock your arrows, let them fly
Heed not the distant foeman’s cry
Archers with your bows of yew,
May your aim prove steady, strong and true.


Now the fleet-foot fighters dance
With rapier blades and deadly stance
Fencers, that your weapons may
Find the heart of your foes this day.


Novice, squire, Knight, and Duke
Let none your honor dare rebuke
Fighters to the battle field!
May your sword and shield ne’er fail nor yield.

In Praise of Sir William Ulfsson

White Shield Tournament Champion 2019

Hark! I say, let all take heed
As I speak of a brave, bold warrior’s deed.
On the field of White Shield’s fearsome fray,
Sir William Ulfsson won the day!

Though Viscount Leohtulf stood proud
With blow on blow, his shield unbowed,
Sir William wove a fierce attack
And drove his foe right quickly back.

There are some who fight in glory’s name
For honor, riches, or for fame.
Sir William raised his sword for those
Who fight the deadly, unseen foe.

So let us praise these warriors true
And give them each their honorable due.
Where deeds of honor are prized and praised
To the name of Sir William let a glass be raised.

Bard of the Oaks

I just realized that I totally failed to update my website with the news that in December I competed for and was named Bard of the Oaks, the official Bard of the Barony of Darkwood. I had to compete in four categories: tall tale, three words from a hat, poem, and … I forget the other one. The poem I read was “Bitter Stalks of Thyme,” I told a tale about coming home after tipping a few and having to fight a monstrous thorny beast … that was “hiding” in the rose bush, and the three words from a hat was a poem I wrote about coming to the West and then having a Laurel (by the name of Mistress Leofwen) encourage me to write a song.

The competition took place at the Baroness’ Masked Ball, and I enjoyed every moment of it. I wish I had not lost the words to the poem I wrote (although I still have the melody), but c’est la vie.

As for the fact that I was the only one competing, I shall strive instead to remember Their Excellencies kind words and encouragement as they invited me to represent Their Barony for the period of one year in the Bardic Arts. I’ll be updating with some of the poems and songs I’ve been writing, and if I get super motivated, I’ll record and post some of them as well!

The bitter stalks of thyme…

One of the approaches to getting better as a bard in the Society is learning the poetry forms that my persona, a 16th-century German, would be familiar with. The goal is to internalize their structure until I can write one without referring to my poetry Bible, Ossa Poetices, by Todd H.C. Fischer. I would also like to start working on putting music composed in accordance with period structures to these lyrics, but that’s another project.

This is my first attempt at bar form, which includes an aufgesang made up of two “stollen” followed by an abgesang, with an overall pattern of AA (aufgesang) followed by B (abgesang) (citation: Fischer). It appeared in the September 2018 issue of The Drum, the newsletter of the Barony of Darkwood.

The bitter stalks of thyme

The bitter stalks of thyme
With yellow-flowered grace of rue
In neatly planted gardens grow
‘Neath tears of joy and sorrow, too.

For we met in our prime
When spring did shower us with grace
And where these lowly herbs took root
We planted roses in their place.

Then let these summer flowers
Grow strong and sturdy with each day
And in the chill of autumn hours
Their colors strong and bold will stay.

Someday we’ll hand in hand
Tread frozen paths of winter’s halls
And memories of garden rose
Shall mute the strains of nighttime’s call.

So, let us follow thyme
Where rue and roses grow with ease—
Though tender shoots give way to gray,
From springtime’s warmth to winter peace.

Raise Your Banner (Song)

Raise Your Banner Music & Lyrics
Lyrics: Katie Blanchard
Music: Rachel Brune

In honor of the then-incoming Sultan Dietrich and Sultana Una of Atlantia, we wrote this song for the Spring 2018 Coronation with the intention of singing it in the Performing Arts Competition. We practiced it quite a bit, but didn’t get as much time to put it together as I would have like, and ended up in a situation where we had two false starts before bowing out. Oh well.

There is no particular period form we used to write the song, although I tried once again to fit it into a modal pattern with varying success. The lyrics were very loosely based on the themes of encouraging those who fought to do so with honor. While I didn’t find many extant examples of songs that fit our SCA construct of fighting to earn a throne, there are examples of songs that encouraged men to take up arms in one Crusade or the other, or songs by minstrels praising those who fought in tournaments or jousts(1). This song could be said to be inspired by such.

Also, we might have biffed it at the actual competition, but later that week, we made it all the way through and didn’t sound half bad. Of course…

(1) Tournaments and Jousts: Training for War in Medieval Times, by Andrea Hopkins.


Siege of Paris (Song)

Siege of Paris Music & Lyrics
Music: Teresa of Attilium & Ashley Hill
Lyrics: Katie Blanchard

Background: We wrote “Siege of Paris” for a Bardic performance at Ymir 2018 in the Barony of Windmasters Hill. The theme was “Vikings versus French,” and we wanted to write a song about the Viking sieges of Paris. We decided to tell the story by having the first two lines of each verse sung from the French perspective, and the second two lines from the Viking, with all the singers coming together to find common ground on the chorus. Katie did some research and decided that while the Vikings sieged Paris in a series of attacks spanning from 845 to 885 C.E., we didn’t have a century to sing the song, and so she collapsed the century of Vikings attacks down to one for the sake of artistic expediency.

We tasked my friend Ashley to help us get a modal harmony going on the chorus. This was the first song we all wrote together, and while it doesn’t strictly follow a documentable period structure, we decided it was pretty close and we would work on more authentic compositions later.

The PDF document above has the link to the sheet music and lyrics. Here is a video of Voices of Attilium performing at Ymir 2018.